War has torn Cybertron to pieces.
The heart of the planet itself, the AllSpark, has been jettisoned into space—I know not where. The great hope of freedom for all Cybertronians, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime, has left to find it—and to draw after him the poison of the Decepticon terror and its mighty figurehead, the onetime gladiator Megatron. In their absence, the mad scientist Shockwave has the planet in his sadistic thrall. The Autobot resistance continues bravely, but they are vastly outnumbered, and bravery itself cannot win in the face of such overwhelming numerical superiority as the Decepticons possess.
The only hope for Cybertronian civilization is that Optimus Prime will one day return with the AllSpark. While he is gone, the planet—itself a living being—slumbers, slowly healing even as the continuing conflict on its surface inflicts further wounds. I fear that Shockwave contemplates damaging the planet further as part of an experimental regime that none of our spies have been able to uncover. It could be that he does not wish Megatron to return and thinks that if Cybertron is crippled, it will be left to us: the dregs, the remnants of what was once a proud civilization.
I do what I can. I chronicle these times. I counsel caution and prudence on the part of the remaining Autobots. Yet they are perhaps a little too brave for their own good, particularly the Wreckers and the indomitable Ultra Magnus. I have lost count—I, the archivist!—of how many times the Wreckers have stood down a numerically superior Decepticon force. And how many more times have they struck in a daring raid on Decepticon facilities, destroying munitions and supplies? It might not be an exaggeration to say that were it not for Ultra Magnus, the war would already be over.
And with it, I believe, my liberty to continue this chronicle.
Despite the heroism of the Wreckers—and those other Autobots who fight on in Optimus Prime’s absence—the situation here is dire and deteriorating every moment. I do not know why Shockwave has not appeared in the Hall of Records to drag me away to one of his reformatting laboratories. It would be within his power to do so; that he has not surely means that he is more interested in observing me. All of my actions are certainly recorded and reported back to Shockwave. Very few things happen on Cybertron without his notice.
I believe he might find some surprises should he attempt to remake me. It has been many, many cycles since I last fought a battle, but once I was mighty. Cybertron is in the hands of its enemies, and perhaps I will be called on to fight again. Even we Thirteen must die sometime.
There has been no news from Optimus Prime. This is not a surprise, but it is a worry. His quest to recover the AllSpark and lead Megatron away from Cybertron is noble but perilous. Only a Prime would have any hope of surviving it, and even a Prime can have no idea of how long it might take. I can feel the AllSpark—as I imagine all Cybertronians can—like a distant pulse in the fabric of the universe, a murmur of life and certainty. But so very far away.
One wonders if he is as anxious for news of Cybertron as we here are for reports of his progress. Probably. And there is, perhaps, a way to achieve this. I must consider whether it is worth the risk. For now, I must put down the Quill and return to my second role as strategist and planner for the doomed and noble Autobot resistance. Did I write “doomed”? I did. But I do not believe it. At times such as these, periodically one must indulge one’s more melancholy fancies. Then, having done so, one must return to the business of winning an unwinnable war.
This, then, I will do.
Optimus Prime stood at the command console of the Ark’s bridge looking out at the vastness of space and the unfamiliar scattering of stars. He felt a faint tug that he knew to be the AllSpark calling to him. It was very far away. The Ark automatically scanned the nearest sector of space, returning a three-axis hologram that showed no other structures or ships within sensor range. The Space Bridge, catapulting them away from Cybertron in the moment of its collapse, had malfunctioned badly. They had no idea where they were, and there was clearly no Space Bridge there to further their journey.
The other bots on the bridge looked to him for guidance. “Make sure there is no sign of the Nemesis,” Optimus Prime said.
The scan repeated with the same result. From the pilot’s chair, Sideswipe said, “We’re all alone. Just us and some drifting molecules of interstellar gas.”
“Good,” Optimus said.
“Good?” Jazz repeated. “We’re in the middle of interstellar space here. We don’t know where, and we don’t know how far from the AllSpark, and we don’t know where Megatron is. How is that good?”
“Because before we got to the Space Bridge on Cybertron, I wasn’t sure any of us would survive,” Optimus said. “As long as we survive, so does our quest.”
“Better than the alternative,” Silverbolt commented.
“That’s what I mean.” Optimus looked out through the viewport on the bridge. Stars, the occasional streak of nebular gas. This was the problem with flight, he thought. It was far too easy to lose track of where you were going. He much preferred having his feet—or wheels—on solid ground.
“So what do we do?” Jazz asked.
“Objective number one is to get ourselves oriented,” Optimus said. “If we don’t know where we are, it’s going to be hard to figure out how to get where we’re going.” He kept looking at the stars as he spoke, willing them to resolve into constellations he could recognize, though of course they wouldn’t. “Number two, we try to figure out where the Nemesis is. If Megatron is close, we need to decide whether we confront him or just try to beat him to the AllSpark. But let’s take care of number one first. Silverbolt, any indication from the Ark that it knows where we are?”
Silverbolt had been working through a series of system checks and trying to scan the nearer stars for their spectrometric signatures. “Not yet,” he said. “We’re a long way from home, that’s for sure.”
“What’s the nearest star system with planets?” It was possible, Optimus reasoned, that the reason for their appearance in this area of space was that there once had been a Space Bridge somewhere near … although “near” was a relative term out there in the reaches of interstellar space. That Space Bridge would be near a planet more likely than not, so Optimus thought there was reason to believe that finding a planet would give them the best chance of finding a Space Bridge.
He did not say all of that out loud because even in his mind it sounded like a rickety structure of supposition piled on guesswork piled on unwarranted inference.
But it was the best chance they had. The alternative—taking off at sublight speeds across the galaxy in the general direction of the AllSpark—was not worth considering. They didn’t have a trillion cycles to waste.
Yet he did not feel fear. The AllSpark called to him, and if it took a trillion cycles and half the stars of the galaxy grew cold in the quest, he would find it and bring it home. It was his destiny and the reason for his existence. He rested a hand on the center of his torso, over the Matrix of Leadership.
At the touch, something happened. Optimus Prime tried to speak and found he could not. He lurched to one side, banging into Jazz, who steadied him.
“Optimus,” Jazz said. “You okay?”
Optimus Prime could not answer. A surge of energy inside him overwhelmed all of his systems. He could barely stay upright even with Jazz’s support. The Matrix began to glow inside his torso, its radiance so fierce that it shone through Optimus’s external armor. He was made into a window through which the Matrix cast a hologram into the space above the command console. Optimus turned, and the hologram turned with him, expanding and holding its place in the center of the bridge. “Look,” he said finally.
“We are,” Jazz said. Optimus nodded absently but made no other response, and Jazz followed up with the first thing that passed through his mind. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Of course,” Optimus Prime said. Jazz had the sense that he would have given the same answer to any question, so absorbed was he in the hologram manifestation.
“It’s a star map,” Ratchet said. He reached out and touched the edge of the hologram. It spun and angled itself around, reacting to the touch and presenting Ratchet with the view that Optimus had seen when the hologram spawned. “See? We’re here.” He indicated a glowing triangle.
Yes, Optimus thought. The surrounding constellations started to make sense with what he could see in the hologram.
“Where did this come from?” Jazz asked.
“The Matrix,” Optimus Prime said.
“Well, why?” This was practically the first thing Perceptor had said since the Ark had lifted off from Cybertron. A dedicated astronomer and physicist, he spent most of his time looking at the stars. Maybe, Jazz thought, he hadn’t seen anything worth commenting on until the appearance of the map. “I mean, why would the Matrix be showing us a star map? We can look out the viewport, and I could calculate our position easily enough.”
“I wonder how old this map is,” Jazz said. On the hologram, the triangle representing the ship moved ever so slightly. “It still doesn’t tell us where we are if there aren’t any known stars to steer by.”
“You’re not listening, Jazz,” Perceptor said. “All we need is a brief spectrographic sweep and I can identify enough stars to fix our position.”
“Well, excuse me,” Jazz said. He knew Perceptor was speaking with a scientist’s typical bluntness and disregard for social protocol, but he was unsettled and in no mood to be talked down to.
“The more interesting question is why the Matrix contains a star map,” Ratchet said.
“Not to me,” Perceptor said.
“Well, you’re not like an ordinary bot,” Ratchet said. “The rest of us are curious. Prime, what do you think?”
“I do not know,” Optimus Prime said. “The answer may be contained in the map itself.”
“It’s almost like the Matrix knew this would happen,” Ratchet said.
Copyright © 2014 by Alex Irvine. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.